Evil, Ignorant, or Psychotic (2017Feb27)


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Monday, February 27, 2017                                             5:40 PM

What do we mean when we say someone is ‘psychotic’? I don’t know anything about psychiatry—but I know it doesn’t mean misbehavior—we have criminal law to define what misbehavior is—and it even has conditions that attempt to separate crime from insanity—so ‘psychotic’, whatever that means to us, is not merely doing something bad. I’ve always assumed it meant disassociation from reality—perceiving reality in a way that is fundamentally different from sane people.

And we’ve seen several media reports recently that go out of their way to point out that psychosis, in and of itself, isn’t evil, per se. They give examples of people who are diagnosed as psychotic, but functional, meaning that such people can take care of themselves and don’t make a habit of hurting anyone else, but are nevertheless technically psychotic. That would seem to bear out my assumption that being psychotic isn’t the same as being a bad person.

I think, when we discuss modern politics, we often use ‘psychotic’ to label someone who thinks they have a good idea—and we recognize that ‘good idea’ as a very bad idea, the badness of which should be self-evident to any sane person. Thus Trump and most of his coterie are often described as psychotic—their ideas, if you can call them that, have been seen before, have been discussed before, and have been discarded as shortsighted, or just plain wrong, sometimes years or even decades before now. Their ignorance and willful blindness suggest someone with a malevolent agenda—and rather than call them evil traitors, we give them the benefit of the doubt—and say they must be crazy.

But these are our choices: evil, ignorant, or psychotic—they’re either doing wrong because they intend to, because they don’t know better, or because they fail to grasp reality. Not great choices. Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last week, giving examples of seeming malfeasance, or incompetence, depending on how much volition and knowledge you give them credit for. With each example she repeated the mystery: ‘Are they evil, or are they ignorant and incompetent? You choose.’ But she left out bat-shit crazy—and I can understand why she wanted to keep it simple, but she still left out a very real possibility.

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And I can also see where a knowledgeable reporter would shy away from the question of psychosis. Capitalism is psychotic, when we consider that we are destroying our planet as fast as we can, meanwhile shouting to all who will listen that we can’t afford to slow down. American Politics is psychotic, when we consider that Trump won the election. Religion is psychotic on its face—the very definition of insanity—believing in something that there is no evidence of. And you and I are somewhat crazy as well—everyone is a little crazy, or a lot, depending. I like to think I’m only a little bit crazy, but who knows?

But a true psychotic is like a runaway robot—it will follow its programming, and it won’t slow down just because people start suffering or dying. It won’t adjust for outside input, peer pressure, ethics, morality, or any other reason—it will do what it is doing, and god help you if you get in its way.

And if that sounds a little too much like Trump and his administration, then you and I are in agreement. He may be evil. He is most certainly one of the most ignorant people ever to wield such power. But whatever else he is, there’s some crazy in there, too, no doubt about it.

Look at his life before politics—always skirting the far edges of propriety when it came to personal behavior, always skirting the far edges of legality when it came to acquiring profits, always dismissive of anything like ethics. Had things gone a little differently, Trump would have been campaigning from a jail cell, arrested for one illegal or perverted act or another. It is entirely possible his entire campaign was meant merely to give him immunity from prosecution for many actions he dismissed so quickly, while yelling that his opponent belonged in jail.

The fact that Trump University was found to be fraudulent, during the campaign, and even this clear indicator was ignored by his supporters—means that a good quarter of the country’s voters are a little t’eched in the head, as well.

Then there’s Putin—a murdering crime-boss who wormed his way into the Russian establishment and will kill anyone who threatens his primacy, now that he has it. Trump admired him openly during the campaign and now, as president, he urges America to ‘get along’ with this mafia thug. Crazy loves crazy, I guess.

But America is funny—we’ll do the whole four years with a madman in the White House—but if he takes off his pants and starts running around the front lawn singing nursery rhymes—we’ve got him. This is ironic since, if Trump were to do that, it would be among his most sensible activities—and his least harmful agendas—in the last year.

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